Pandharpur

Pandharpur is a pilgrimage city on the banks of Bhima river in Solapur district, Maharashtra. Pandharpur is situated on the 1711 north axis and the 7511 east longitude in Solapur District. The Vithoba temple attracts about a million Hindu pilgrims during the major yatra (pilgrimage) in the month of Ashadh (June-July).

Pandharpur is one of the most prominent pilgrimage places in Maharashtra. It is located on the banks of the Bhima river, which is alternatively known as Chandrabhaga because of its half-moon-like shape. The city is named after a great merchant, Pundalik, who achieved self-realization there.

Pandharpur, also known as Pandhari, hosts the renowned Vitthal temple on the banks of Bhima. "Vithoba", "Pandurang", and "Pandharinath" are the popular alternate names of the deity, Viththal, who is regarded in Hinduism as a form of Lord Krishna. Krishna is considered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Rakhumai or Rukmini is Viththal's consort in the temple.

The worship of Vitthal in the Pandharpur temple is based mainly on the contents of the Puranas, and the contributions of the Vaishnav saints of Maharashtra and Karnataka during the 13th through the 17th centuries. Some of these saints are Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Gora Kumbhar, Chokhamela, Eknath, Tukaram, Purandara Dasa, Vijaya Dasa, Gopala Dasa, and Jagannatha Dasa.

The Pandharpur temple covers a large area and has six gates. The eastern gate is known as the "Namdev Gate."

Pandharpur hosts four annual pilgrimages ("yatras") of Hindu devotees. Among them, the pilgrimage in the month of Ashadh (June-July) in the Hindu calendar attracts the largest number of pilgrims-around 500,000 to 700,000 people. The pilgrimages in the months of Kartik (October-November), Magh (January-February) and Shravan (July-August) attract the second, third and fourth largest numbers of pilgrims respectively.

There are some other important holy places around Pandharpur. The deities include the Goddess Tulja Bhavani (Goddess of family - KulDevata of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj) at Tuljapur, Saint Shri Swami Samarth (God Form of Dattatreya) at Shri Kshetra Akkalkot, Lord Dattatreya at Ganagapur, etc. All these places are located in or near the Solapur District.

Vithoba Temple, Pandharpur
Vithoba temple, Pandharpur is the main centre of worship for the Hindu deity Vithoba, believed to be a local form of god Krishna or Vishnu and his consort Rakhumai. It is the most visited temple in Maharastra. The Warkaris start marching from their homes to the temple of Pandharpur in groups called Dindi to reach on Aashadhi ekadashi and Kartiki ekadashi. A dip in the holy river Chandrabhaga on whose banks Pandharpur resides, is believed to have power to wash all sins.

All the devotees are allowed to touch the feet of the idol of Vithoba.

The saga of Pundalik is one of the most important Mahima legends about Vithoba. How Vithoba came to Pandharpur is a story in which Pundalik is vital. Pundalik is a devoted son to his parents Janudev and Satyavati, who lived in a forest called Dandirvan. But after his wedding, Pundalik begins ill-treating his parents. Tired with their son's misbehavior and ill treatment, the elderly couple decide to leave for Kashi. Legend holds that people who die in the city of Kashi attain salvation and emancipation from the cycle of birth and death; so, many pious Hindus in the bygone era would relocate to Kashi as their end drew near.

However, the elderly couple are not destined to escape their suffering so easily. Upon hearing his parents' plans, Pundalik and his wife decide to join them on pilgrimage. The ill treatment continues. While the youthful son and his wife ride on horseback, the frail old couple walk in bad weather. Pundalik even makes his old parents work to make his own journey comfortable. Every evening, when the party camps for the night, the son forces his parents to groom the horses and do other jobs.

On the way to Kashi, the group reaches the ashram (hermitage) of a pious and venerable sage, Kukkutswami. Exhausted, the family decides to spend a few days there. That night, when all were asleep, Pundalik by chance is awake and sees a remarkable vision. Just before dawn, a group of beautiful young women, dressed in soiled clothes, enter the ashram; they clean the floor, fetch water and wash the venerable sage's clothes. After finishing their chores, they go to the prayer-room. When they reappear after prayer, their clothes are spotlessly clean. Then, they vanish as inexplicably as they had appeared.

Pundalik is not moved to raise an alarm, but feels a deep sense of peace witnessing the scene. It remains on his mind the whole day and he resolves to remain awake the next night, and confirm it was not merely a dream. This time, however, Pundalik is very curious. He approaches the beautiful women and asks details.

They reply, they are the Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna and other holy rivers of India-revered for their holiness. Pilgrims wish to take a dip in their holy waters to wash away their sins, which in fact are soiling their clothes.

Then, the women say: "But O Pundalik, you, with your ill-treatment of your parents, are the greatest sinner of them all!"

Pundalik is utterly shocked and his consciousness transforms. He realizes his misdeeds, becomes entirely devoted to his parents and ensures their comfort, even risking his own.

Devotion in any form reaches God swiftly. Impressed by Pundalik's devotion to his parents, Lord Visnu plans to bless Pundalik immediately. So, He leaves Vaikuntha (His abode) for Pundalik's ashram.

Vishnu knocks at Pundalik's door, when he is busy serving his parents food. Pundalik does realize God is at his door. But such was his devotion to his parents, he wants to complete his duties and only then attend the visitor. Then, Pundalik does something strange but out of real devotion. He throws a brick outside for God to stand on and wait for him until he finishes attending to his parents.

Seeing this act, Visnu is extremely impressed and the ever-loving God waits for his devotee. When Pundalik comes out, he begs for pardon but far from being displeased, Visnu is taken over by Pundalik's love for his parents and grants a boon. Pundalik requests Visnu to stay back on Earth and bless all his true devotees. He agrees to take the form of Vithoba, or God who stood upon a brick, and a temple comes up there. Along with Vithoba, Rakhumai (Mother Rukmini, the consort of Krishna, one of avatars of Visnu) is also worshipped here.